4100 St. Claude Avenue
September 13–October 5, 2014
Twenty screen prints cover the walls and bright lights flood the room in Imen Djouini’s exhibition “To Bear One’s Threads” at The Front this month. With four large flags hanging in the center, the gallery immediately feels nationalistic. Djouini’s screen prints propose new flags for Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Iraq, challenging their original formulations of pride, unity, and power, while narrating the potentials and instabilities of these four countries as they undergo extreme structural change.
Influenced by the citizen-initiated revolt against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, Djouini began working on this series around 2010. At that time, images of Tahrir Square and the Egyptian flag inundated television screens and social media. These snapshots formed the basis of her new iterations of the country’s flag, represented here by five hand-pulled silkscreen prints comprising Level: Egypt, 2014.
Each flag employs carefully selected language and imagery—icons whose misuse could very well warrant punishment in their respective countries as treachery or even blasphemy. While Overlay: Syria #2, maintains the Syrian flag’s distinctive red and black hues, Djouini incorporates a dominant floral pattern. Coiled: Iraq #3, however, reflects only subtle changes to the original, altered by skewing the Iraqi flag’s main color blocks at slight angles and re-arranging the “Takbir” in green script. Such a minor alteration creates one of the most dramatic aesthetic shifts within the new compositions, reminding us that even small actions can be enough to incite change.
The titles of Djouini’s works speak to the processes inherent in these changes. Words such as overlay and coiled convey the labor and tension of re-fashioning these historically rooted societies. While Djouini finds parallels to the years following the civil war in her native Algeria in 1991, strong connections can also be drawn to her current home in New Orleans. Since Hurricane Katrina, the social, political, and economic shifts enacted daily constantly beg the question of what progress is—and who really benefits in the changing landscape.